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Ben-Gurion Informs Cabinet of Eichmann’s Capture

(May 23, 1960)

On May 23, 1960, before announcing the news to the Knesset, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion told the members of his cabinet: “The security services have been looking for [Adolf] Eichmann, they found him, he’s here and will be put on trial.” He added that the Law for Doing Justice to Nazis and their Accomplices allowed capital punishment.

Yitzchak ben Aharon asked in Yiddish: “How? Where?”

Ben Gurion only said, “that’s what the security services are for.”

Ben Aharon said: “I met him in Vienna in 1936.”

Moshe Haim Shapira chimed in: “And I met him in 1938.”

“While Ben Gurion wanted to talk about the legal process, and definitely didn’t want to talk about how and where or even by whom the arrest had been made, Shapira was still reminiscing about that meeting: ‘He asked me if I’d come to remove Herzl’s bones. I remember I was there with Dr. Senator, who didn’t stand when Eichmann entered the room; Eichmann told him that if he wasn’t gone from Austria within the day he’d be sent to a camp.”

Dr. Yosef Burg was concerned that Eichmann might make a scene in court that would harm Israel’s image.

The cabinet discussed who might represent Eichmann and assumed no Jewish lawyer would do so.

Isser Harel, the Mossad chief behind the kidnapping operation, said of Eichmann, “He doesn’t understand our behavior. He was convinced we’d harm him and be cruel. Instead, we’re acting according to the law.”

Several members of the cabinet thought the agents who captured Eichmann should be given public recognition and perhaps an award, but Ben-Gurion objected to the idea.

Meanwhile, the evidence collected was presented to the prosecution to draw up the indictment against him. At the same time, Israel’s diplomatic network prepared to cope with the reactions throughout the world to Eichmann’s abduction and the political issues involved.

Sources: “‘Eichmann?! I met him once!’” Israel State Archives blog, (April 8, 2013).
“Special publication: Behind the scenes at the Eichmann Trial,” Israel State Archives.